Is American Wine Culture Worthy of Exporting or Sharing? (Part 1 of 2)

Though America was founded in 1776, it is thought that American wine culture was actually begun in 1976 with the infamous “Judgement of Paris.” Since that time, the wine world has changed to include America on the forefront.

Judgement of Paris – The Sip Still Heard Around the Wine World

Steven Spurrier owned a struggling wine shop in Paris. His California native employee, Patricia Gallagher, had suggested that he start carrying some Napa Valley wines in the shop. With America’s Bicentennial celebration that year, he developed an Old World vs. New World wine competition. French judges agreed to participate because they knew that no one could best their French wines. (A quick read with more details is this U.S.A. Today – “40 Years Ago, California Wines Beat France and Changed the World by Rhonda Adams.)

A first hand more detailed account of this monumental wine event can be found in George M. Taber’s book the Judgement of Paris, “the only reporter present, recounts this seminal contest and its far-reaching effects, focusing on three gifted unknowns behind the winning wines: a college lecturer, a real estate lawyer, and a Yugoslavian immigrant.”

As with everything American, if it is noteworthy … it is script worthy. So, Hollywood has made a movie about it. In 2008, the comedy Bottle Shock was loosely based on George Taber’s book.

Reinvention of the Wine World That Has Followed …

As with most everything America becomes involved with, we have “democratized” the wine world. The struggling wineries that had begun prior to the Judgement of Paris suddenly had their efforts validated on the world’s stage. This helped the American wine industry immediately and in many ways.

In the Old World wine production and distribution fell to a relative few families and facilities that had created it for generations. The system had become quite insulated and entrenched. The way they had always done it was the only way wine was to be made and distributed. 

American Wine Making is Different

America approaches most things differently on many fronts – this includes wine making. The dynamics of the free market allow for those with the funds and the will to pursue their dreams to do so. If the market agrees what they are producing is worthwhile, then their product will be well received and they flourish. So, those that started wineries began with family traditions and practices followed by changing and Americanizing their efforts.

While the American climate was similar, it isn’t an exact match for Italy, France or Spain. Inevitably, American adaptations had to occur in the wine making process. Additionally, with each state having differing alcohol laws and allowing different distribution processes the system has created challenges. Still, the U.S. wine business has flourished and grown over the years into the billions of dollars each year in sales and, again, in tourism dollars.

Overall, America now has approximately 9,000 wineries. Thirteen states have over 100 wineries now. California boasts nearly 5,000 of these wineries and by far, is the hub of American wine culture producing 90% of our country’s wine. 

As you can readily see this industry is dominated by small family run businesses. While there are large family wine production businesses. Predominantly this industry remains the realm of small family farms and winery businesses. To the small family wineries, the annual San Francisco Chronicle wine awards are as monumental as that “Judgement of Paris” contest forty years ago.

Is American Wine Culture Worthy of Exporting or Sharing?

America’s Wine Culture is Growing …

What is popular in American culture will be shown on our television screens. Glasses of red wine are a standard on hit television shows that have women as leading characters. It is more difficult to name a show that doesn’t feature wine than it is to name one that does. LOL!

Liz Thatch’s – The State of Wine Drinking in America Today shares some 2014 statistics from listing America’s top choices in wine are:

1. Chardonnay

2. Cabernet Sauvignon

3. Pinot Grigio

4. Merlot

5. Pinot Noir

Surprising because 51% of sales by dollar volume point to red wine being the American favorite. However, Chardonnay tops this list. Interesting, right?

Ms. Thatch goes on to say “When going to the store to buy a bottle of wine, our research showed that most Americans consider first the variety of grape, then the price, and only then the brand. A full 38 percent will make a decision based on how attractive the label is — not a surprising fact given there are over 60,000 labels on the market. Many rely on the recommendation of friends or store employees in making a choice. Social media also assists in making decisions, with 76 percent of American wine drinkers owning a smartphone and 24 percent currently using wine apps like hello vino and delectable.” This indicates that Millennials are having an impact as mentioned in previous CKJY Exports Wine & Spirit blogs with the wine apps being mentioned. How Americans choose wine is changing and evolving as well. 

Harvard Studies American Wine Culture

Recently, there was a paper published from Harvard’s Business School, detailing these changes and growth – Reinventing the American Wine Industry: Marketing Structures and the Construction of Wine Culture by Ai Hisano. If one of our nation’s best business schools is studying the subject, wine culture has grown to become a market force rather than a fad.


Next week, we will explore how wine has become Americanized.  It is quickly becoming entrenched in American life as an enjoyable staple of life.


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